Game hunters and gun club members around the country are up in arms over a decision to prevent them from going out shooting in the course of their traditional activities.

The start of the annual pheasant shooting season, which was due to begin yesterday, has been delayed under Level 5 Covid-19 restrictions after gardaí announced that recreational hunting does not fall under exemptions allowed for exercise.

The National Association of Regional Game Councils (NRGC) has said the announcement was devastating for hunting men and women.

The Chairperson of the NRGC said 1 November is the biggest day of the year for members and is the "equivalent of an All-Ireland".

Dan Curley said members looked at Level 5 regulations and felt that their activity is "very, very safe" because they are "basically people on their own going across isolated fields".

Mr Curley told RTÉ News they had been seeking guidance and clarification from the National Public Health Emergency Team and the gardaí for the last ten days.

He said there was no threat posed to public health by individual game shooters heading out on the land in the same way as they have done for generations.

He said the NRGC have taken legal advice on the situation but they want to resolve it as soon as possible and for gun clubs to proceed with their traditional pastime.

Some gun clubs around the country have been rearing pheasants for the past months in anticipation for the season starting on 1 November.

He said lots of pheasants have already been released into the wilds and there is a danger that they will be eaten by wild animals such as foxes.

In a statement, gardaí said: "Under the current regulations (SI 448), sporting events must be organised under the structure/licence of a national governing body, funded by Sport Ireland. As such, sport shooting is prohibited in any other circumstances.

"Recreational hunting does not fall under any of the exemptions allowed for exercise or sporting events. It has also been clarified that recreational hunting does not come under any permissible exemptions for travel outside of the home.

"Shooting of vermin (rats/foxes/crows) is permissible as an essential support service to the farming and agriculture profession."